Family: Lobeliaceae, Lobelia inflata L.

Source: Simon, J.E., A.F. Chadwick and L.E. Craker. 1984. Herbs: An Indexed Bibliography. 1971-1980. The Scientific Literature on Selected Herbs, and Aromatic and Medicinal Plants of the Temperate Zone. Archon Books, 770 pp., Hamden, CT.

Lobelia, Lobelia inflata L., is typically an annual plant that reaches a height of one meter. Sometimes called Indian tobacco, wild tobacco, asthma weed, gagroot, vomitroot, pulseweed, emetic herb, bladder pod, and low belia, this native North American plant is poisonous (14.1-28).

The reported life zone of lobelia is 7 to 19 degrees centigrade with an annual precipitation of 0.7 to 1.3 meters and a soil pH of 4.8 to 6.8 (4.1-31). The cultivated plant grows well on a rich, moist loam soil in full sun or partial shade (14.1-29). Pale blue flowers appear in summer and last until frost. The plant develops two-celled, capsuled capsule fruits. The leaves, tops, and fruit are collected during seed formation as the fruit capsules begin to enlarge (14.1-28).

Several alkaloids are found in the plant. The main alkaloid is lobeline, and others include lobelidine, lobelanine, nor-lobelaine, lobelanidine, nor-lobelanidine, lobeline and isolobenine, as well as fourteen pyridine alkaloids, which give the plant a total alkaloid content of up to 0.63 percent (11.1-96, 11.1-136, 14.1-34).

Lobelia has been used medicinally as an expectorant, emetic, anti-asthmatic, stimulant, antispasmodic, diaphoretic, diuretic, and nervine. In addition, the plant or its extracts have served to induce vomiting, to encourage and to stimulate respiration in cases of general and pelvic-musculature muscle relaxation during childbirth, narcotic overdose and newborn infants (11.1-96, 11.1-154). Lobeline has been of some benefit in commercial preparations of antismoking products (11.1-96). Lobelia, after it has been chewed, tastes similar to tobacco and produces effects like those of nicotine. These similarities account for the plant's having been called Indian tobacco and for reports of its stimulatory and depressant activity. Toxicological properties of lobelia include dizziness, nausea, hypotension, vomiting, stupor, tremors, paralysis, convulsions, coma, and death (11.1-136, 14.1-35). Use of lobelia in some products, such as cigarettes and herb teas, could account for the psychoactive effects of these herbal preparations (7.8-54).

Lobelia nicotianaefolia is used in India to treat bronchitis, asthma, and insect and scorpion bites and to induce nausea and vomiting (11.1-96). Lobelia erinus L., an annual used extensively as a garden border plant, has numerous varieties that vary in foliage color, flower size, and growth habit. The plant has also been used medicinally to treat cancer, syphilis, and other venereal diseases (11.1-50). Chinese herbal medicine employs Lobelia radicans Thunb. to treat sores and abscesses, poisonous snakebites, tooth abscesses, ascites, and traumatic injuries (11.1-10).

[Note: References listed above in parentheses can be found in full in the original reference].

Aromatic and Medicinal Plants Index

Last modified 6-Dec-1997